Pakistan polo bucks the trend

The nation's most successful polo player Hissam Hyder tells Al Jazeera English that his sport is not just for the elite.

    Pakistan polo bucks the trend
    Hyder says polo in Pakistan is evolving and there is increased public and sponsorship interest [Images of Polo]

    Hissam Hyder flies the flag for Pakistan in a sport so dominated by Argentina that only one of the world’s top players was born outside the South American country.

    Polo is played everywhere, from plateaus thousands of metres high in the Hindu Kush, to the pristine fields of elite clubs in England and the U.S.

    One place you’re unlikely to find it is on your TV set.

    But Hyder, 31, is convinced that the 'Sport of Kings' can go from being an elite game to one that is watched and played by the masses.

    Can polo be something that can be played by ordinary people?

    Yes. Similar to any other sport, people would need to devote time to it to develop the skill and expertise to play. I don’t see that as being any different to taking tennis, golf or even music lessons.

    Why polo? What is it that does it for you?

    Galloping across a polo field at a speed of 40kph or more, you feel invincible. Also I like to win.

    How much is it true that polo is only really possible for the elite? Is that a myth?

                 Hyder feels polo has become more commerical and accesible to people [Images of Polo]

    It may have been true at a point in time, however, over the years polo has become a more professional sport with big corporate sponsors and high-profile media coverage. There are also a lot of professional polo players who have taken on polo as a career. So it is definitely not just an elite sport. It has become more commercial and accessible.

    What would you like to say to change people's perceptions and make polo more popular - or does the fact that it is not a mainstream sport make it more special?

    Tennis and football matches are televised globally. Polo is a very thrilling, fast paced game – it is televised but on a smaller scale. For people to develop an interest in polo they would need to get more exposure to it. Also the fact that it is positioned as an elite sport may make it a little intimidating to those who would perhaps like to get involved. That is a perception that has and is likely to continue to change over time.

    What would your advice be to someone who wanted to begin the sport?

    Start with riding and master that before you start to play polo as riding is a critical part of the game. Take time to understand and learn the sport. Once you have the basics right, it is all about practice, practice, practice. And most importantly stay focused and don’t give up.

    Most people can imagine the experience of walking out onto a football field. Can you describe the experience of walking out to play in a competition like the Gold Cup in Pakistan?

    Riding on to a polo field to the cheers of thousands of spectators is absolutely thrilling. You are there to provide entertainment and if the crowd likes your performance your team will likely become a favourite. Added to that is the prestige of a tournament such as the National Open of Pakistan itself.

    You know you are up against some of the best players in the world and under pressure to perform at your best. Before a game I take some time to focus myself, I check to see my horses are ok, hydrate, gear up and catch up with my team.

    When did you first get on a horse?

    I don’t really have a very good memory of the first time on a horse. Polo has been in my family for three generations now. My grandfather played polo, my father after him and I caught the bug fairly soon too. I started riding at the Lahore Polo Club when I was four. All my siblings and I learnt how to ride. Horses and polo have always been part of my life as far back as I can remember. We literally grew up on the polo ground.

    How would you describe the culture of polo in Pakistan?

    Over the years polo in Pakistan has evolved into a professional sport with good corporate sponsorships and increased public interest. There has been a steady influx of foreign players and local players have also started investing in the game and in themselves. The media has also played a big role by writing about and televising matches to make the game more accessible to a wider audience – a very good trend.

    How does it compare with the culture of polo in Argentina, and in England?

    For me the main difference between International polo and polo in Pakistan is the quality of the horses. As more than half the game is about the horses, people need to realise that and invest in horse power as without that it is very difficult to improve the overall level of the game.

    Polo in Pakistan still tends to be a family sport that is not accessible to all those who would like to play. Investment in the upcoming generation of polo players by providing them the opportunities and funding options to develop and improve their game at an international level will ensure a good pool of Pakistani talent for years to come.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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